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Medical pot bill still going

Last modified: 4/26/2012 12:00:00 AM
The New Hampshire House showed yesterday it has enough votes to potentially legalize medical marijuana over the governor's objection, but it's unknown whether the Senate can muster the same support.

The House's 236-96 vote came a day after Democratic Gov. John Lynch promised to veto the bill over concerns about a "lack of adequate controls on the distribution of marijuana, and the potential for proliferation." Lynch successfully vetoed a similar effort in 2009, though he says he has compassion for those who believe marijuana has medicinal benefits.

The bill originated in the Senate, where it only passed by one vote, 13-11. Sen. Jim Forsythe, a Strafford Republican and primary sponsor, says he is in talks with other senators to win more support for the bill, which would allow people diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition or their caretakers to legally possess or cultivate up to six ounces of marijuana. Forsythe must bring three senators over to his side to override Lynch with a two-thirds majority.

"We're definitely still working on that," Forsythe said. "The real issue is law enforcement is continuing to dig their heels in on this . . . and that's putting a lot of senators in a tough spot."

Deerfield Republican Rep. John Reagan, the chairman of the House Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee, is a leading supporter of the bill and said yesterday he heard the Senate either has a veto-proof majority or is one vote short. Forsythe said at this point that would be "overly optimistic."

On the House floor yesterday, Reagan said the bill should resonate with any lawmakers who know someone "who has been tortured to death by cancer or by the starvation of not being able to take nourishment." That pain and inability to eat could be "easily relieved" by marijuana, he said. Rep. Evalyn Merrick of Lancaster, a Democrat on the House health committee who has an incurable cancer, says medical marijuana could help her.

The Senate vote last month saw all five Democrats vote with eight Republicans to pass the bill. Eleven Republicans opposed it. Senate President Peter Bragdon, a Milford Republican, voted against the bill, while Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, voted in favor.

The House vote yesterday included an amendment that would require concurrence by the Senate, but the bill is first being sent to the House Finance Committee to review its financial impact.

Last year, a medical marijuana bill passed the House with a veto-proof majority before dying in the Senate because it did not have the votes to override Lynch's promised veto. Forsythe said a "striking difference" with this year's bill is it "doesn't put any state employee at risk of violating federal law," as opposed to previous proposals that would have required state health officials to perform regulatory functions.

Forsythe said he is eager to hear any amendments the House Finance Committee might add to the bill as he tries to win more support in the Senate.

"I'm willing to work with anybody," Forsythe said.

(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or mspolar@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @mattspolar.)


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